I caught the PITB>EL Paso>PITB> Wharf rat section of this show on the Grateful Dead XM radio channel on my way to work this morning and was absolutely blown away. I came immediately here in search of the full show. What a thrill to experience this fantastic show on its 40th anniversary. This show overall is a real gem. The first set is, IMHO slightly above average for a 73 show but the second set is incredible. I’ll hit my personal highlights:
Set One opens with Me & My Uncle, which I find to be an awkward (albeit rare) opener. It doesn’t really have anything to do with performance quality, but more likely that I’m so used to hearing it later in the first set. This one seems to fit nicely though and IMHO feels like far less of an “abrupt” start than the 11/17 UCLA show. Maybe it’s because the narrator is addressing a hometown crowd in the Mile High City. Who knows? Sugaree features some solid Jerry soloing and some very emotive vocals on the last few “Shake it, shake it, Sugaree”s with the whole band following suit in pleading intensity. Jack Straw is dripping with the lighthearted, sun-drenched glow it consistently embodied through the early 70’s, Jerry’s guitar taking that familiar weightless, soaring tone. Dire Wolf has a grooving syncopated jazz swing to it, Keith bringing a lot to the table rhythmically. HC Sunshine is tasty as always, Phil really delivering the goods, his bottom-end melodies weaving through Garcia’s like an intricate, collaborative tapestry. Brokedown Palace, which has started reappearing back in late October, Hunter’s words shining over the crowd aloft on the band’s collective sunbeams. And then we come to the real crown jewel of the first set, WRS. I’m a huge fan of this tune and this one rounds out the set nicely, sweeping us away . The boys are off to an amazing start.
Set Two starts off with another new tune off Wake of the Flood (released about a month prior) Mississippi Half Step. This song is still wet behind the ears, mostly lacking the passion “Across the Rio-Grande-eo” would gain in later years, but it’s already well on its way to growing into the awe-inspiring juggernaut it would become. The ending jam feels a little cut off but when the band heads into PITB, all is forgiven. Little does anyone know at this point that we are embarking on a full on PITB-fueled excursion that will launch us through space and time. He race through the desert on horseback in search of love in the Old West, sit by a dock to hear the heartbreaking past and hopeful future of an old blind man, and finally wait restlessly in a nuclear fall-out shelter and dream of the world outside. Whirlwind segments of stunning psychedelic improvisation usher us from place to place, oozing with 73 jazziness and at some moments and surging with Dark Star-esque energy. (Note: IMHO The track labeled here as “Dark Star Jam” would probably be better titled something else, or just added to the beginning of Wharf Rat. While the jam shares a lot of characteristics with Dark Star, it sounds to me like the band is jamming on the Wharf Rat chord progression. 73 is just so damn wonderfully jazzy that almost any spaced out jam is going to take on a Dark Star “feel”) By the end of Morning Dew, this would truly be enough…if the show ended there not a soul in attendance could say that they went home “hungry.”
But, true to 73 form, there are more roads to be traveled. Starting off with a rollicking Truckin’, the latter part of the second set races headfirst in the Rock N Roll direction. The Truckin’ is pretty standard for the era which, IMHO means it’s an excellent one from an overall career perspective. 73 was definitely a hot year for Truckin. It segues into another favorite of mine, Nobody’s Fault But Mine. It’s short but sweet, Phil soon calling up a rollicking GDTRFB. You never need a calendar to spot a Saturday Grateful Dead show. This version of One More Saturday Night is well above average, probably due at least in part was the transition from GDTRFB. All that momentum had to go somewhere.
Who doesn’t love an UJB encore? I can’t think of a better song to serve as benediction to the experience that was a Grateful Dead concert, soothing a soothing chorus singing verses of sage advice and sending you gently back out into the world. Come here to the riverside…as always, the boys have some things to talk about.
Some wonderful, wonderful things.